Laurel Falls

Visitors at a packed Laurel Falls show a need to address congestion at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park announced Tuesday it welcome a total 12,095,720 visitors in 2020, despite closures and alterations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of those 12-plus million, 1,708,007 entered through Townsend, park data shows.

According to the announcement, 2020 marks the second time in park history that visitation exceeded 12 million. Park data from 2019 shows 12,547,743 visited that year — GSMNP's annual record.

“I’m proud of our staff and partners who worked diligently to develop COVID-safe protocols that enabled us to safely provide access to the park during a time when people were desperate to spend time in this special place for healing and refuge,” Park Superintendent Cassius Cash stated in the park press release.

With a visitor increase, the park also is struggling with congestion, crowding and littering, Cash added.

The park is moving to address these issues throughout 2021, according to the release, but is also celebrating GSMNP's increasing popularity.

Details will be available in the Mach 3 issue of The Daily Times.

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